I got away about 2:00 on Friday and headed to Jordan Lake, planning to camp rather than find a hotel thirty minutes away. The only downside was that being tied up with the race all of Saturday, I'd have to breakdown and pack away everything at 5:30 a.m., hoping not to wake other campers. The campsites are not at the start/finish, but are about a five minute drive down gravel roads, all within the Park. I should add that there was one other downside to my camping idea, though it was unforeseen. As I got ready to eat dinner at the picnic table, a young guy from an adjacent campsite came over and talked my ear off for two hours. He was friendly, but new to being in the woods (nervous) and his friends had left to run get hot dogs and pick up another camper. At times I wondered if they had just left him. By the time they returned, it was about 8:00 and I just went to the tent to sleep.
Even with falling asleep around 8:30 and getting a pretty good night's rest, the alarm going off at 5:30 was still a surprise. I wonder how long I'd have slept without it? Moving as quickly and quietly as I could, I got everything packed away and lugged it all in one trip back to my car, arriving at the start/finish area at about 6:05 or 6:10. Plenty early for the 7:00 start. I had come out here the day before, when I arrived, and walked a little of the trail, but not enough to really have a feel for it. Lee and Phyllis had done the entire loop and gave me a general description. He found it hillier than Weymouth Woods, but kind of similar in many respects.
Since this was a 2.93 mile loop course, giving a mile-by-mile recap would be difficult and not very interesting. So, to describe the loop, there is a short out-and-back stretch in the parking lot where we cross the mat and pass by our tables. I backed into a parking space right by where we'd be running and put out a folding chair like I had at Weymouth. Lee had set up a larger tent a little farther away, but also placed a chair beside my car. On it, I put my PB&Js with Chia seeds, assortment of bars, S-caps & Tums, a lightweight white shirt and a towel. Underneath, I had a change of shoes and two gallons of water (in case their water was from a tap.)
There were 36 people registered and three relay teams with three runners each. I couldn't figure out who was on which team during the race, but later learned that the three 12 & 13 year-old girls I kept seeing were all on the same team. More about them later.
Though I knew better than to allow this to happen, I found myself being pulled out by the three relay runners. I wasn't alone in though, as one other runner was in our group of five. I was trying to run a comfortable, maintainable pace, but was certainly going out too quickly for a twelve-hour event. I was in first place among the individuals for about a mile or so and the other guy with me went on by. He assumed the lead and I would not see him again until the end of the race. I wouldn't catch up and he wouldn't lap me.
I do not have a GPS or a map to go by, but my general overview of the course is like this. Enter the woods and take a right. Minor rolling hills for the first mile or so and you will cross a gravel road and head down toward Jordan Lake. Just before the road crossing, they had a huge cooler filled with ice and bottled water for refilling. After you reach Jordan Lake and run around a cove, there is a long uphill. The trail then winds around with more small hills and the occasional view of the lake until you reach a point where our blue-marked trail forks and hikers can head off to the right onto the "red" trail. For some reason, there was a fire extinguisher at this junction and it became my reminder after the first couple laps that a big hill was ahead and to walk. This hill was shorter than the prior before it levels off at a kiosk and you run parallel to the road on a fairly flat stretch. After maybe 1/4 mile, the trail heads up and across the road for a couple hundred yards. At the top of this hill, it's all downhill to the start/finish area. A very runnable, fast downhill if you have your legs. There were roots and rocks along the trail, but almost always avoidable. The leaves on the trees were still pretty young and blocked some, but not all of the mid-day sun. Sections on the course benefited from a breeze coming off the lake which made it feel a bit better than the 60-70 degrees it ultimately reached. The start/finish area, on an asphalt parking lot, was actually the least comfortable part of the course, temperature-wise.
Now, in a nutshell, here's how my day went. The first few laps I spent running a little too fast, but still was getting lapped by relay runners who were switching out every lap or two. Occasionally, I'd catch up to an individual runner and go around. I made an effort to take an S-cap every 90 minutes. Maybe it should have been more frequently, but it was more often than the every two hours rate I had used in prior events. I tried to eat more solid food when I came through and by my chair. And I made an effort to drink a lot more often since my bottle only had to last three miles (and less if I took advantage of the cooler at mile one.)
Around mid-day to early-afternoon, at the base of the "fire extinguisher" hill, a single fly started buzzing me as I walked up the hill. He'd follow me across the road and to the start of the long downhill back to the start/finish, so maybe 5-8 minutes. Then, he'd be right back at the bottom the next lap, ready to follow me up and bug me. He was quite good at avoiding my swats and the only time I had success in getting rid of him was when I could go under a leafy branch and he'd run into it. But that only got rid of him for a few seconds and he'd find me again...
Loops can get old pretty quickly. The novelty of knowing exactly what lies ahead and when you might want to walk versus run wears off. In ultras, it's nice to be alone and occasionally see other people. With a loop--especially a small one--you are constantly passing or being passed by the same people. You run out of things to say ("Good job" only goes so far...) and
You'll see in my splits, that my time generally slowed each lap. This is partly due to adding more areas where I'd walk and also to spending more time at my chair refilling my bottle, talking to Phyllis, and eating something. It seemed that for most of the day, no matter how bad I felt on the course, when I hit that last downhill, it picked me up a bit, mentally.
Lap Splits vs. Winner
Lap # Mile Winner Me Minutes Behind
Now, how the finish played out on race day was a funny story. I never saw the leader after the first lap and other than the timer (Brandon Wilson) telling me I was in second, I had no way of knowing if he was still on the course or had lapped me. When I went out for lap 19, right as I entered the woods, I bonked badly. My energy had just vanished even though I'd just come through my aid station. I walked a stretch that I had been running until this point and took a gel. After maybe 3-5 minutes, I felt better and was able to resume my run/walk strategy I'd used for the last several hours.